Yesterday was the first major event at the school that I have now seen twice. My first year and a day here is over. It’s a grand, strange feeling.
The first part of the day was bizarrely prosaic. I helped clean the Chapel and set up chairs—they’re all aluminum folding chairs, I’d forgotten that—and candle-holders and what-not. It was very cold work—the building hasn’t been heated all winter, and the Chapel is huge so it’s almost impossible to heat. All the warmth goes twenty feel up to the ceiling and stays there. When we first went in there, the air inside the building was actually colder than the air outside the building. I guess it had settled on the average temperature for the month or something, but whatever the mechanism it was well below freezing. We got a fire going in the stove at the back and kept having to stop what we were doing to feed more and more logs in. It didn’t make much difference.
I went back to my dorm for a shower and a nap. It was just about dark by the time I got up.
By the time I got back to the Chapel it looked like most people were already there, but I could see a few empty seats in the candlelit gloom. I found one at the end of a row next to Kayla and Aidan. Almost as soon as I’d sat down, Kayla made one of those noises, like she’d just remembered something, and asked to trade seats with me.
“I want to be able to get out easily if Aidan gets cranky,” she explained.
“Why didn’t you give him to somebody else?” I asked.
“Because everybody is here,” she explained. “Anyway, it’s his birthday. I wouldn’t want him be without me on his birthday.”
“His birthday?” I explained. “You mean--?”
“Yes, a year ago today.”
“Wow. Happy labor day!” She giggled. “What was it like, labor? Was it really hard?”
“It wasn’t bad, from what I’ve heard. My mother was in labor for three days with me. Aidan came out after only a few hours. He was really little—premature, you know? But it was hard enough. I didn’t even know I was pregnant.”
“I know. I heard.”
“I thought I was dying. That’s why I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t think it would do any good. I thought I was dying. I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s Brigid.” I couldn’t think what to say. I looked at my hands and fidgeted, I just…I could kill the man who did that to her, I really could. When Kayla spoke again it was in a much lighter tone of voice. “But then I got my beautiful boy.”
“Happy birthday, Aidan,” I said, and the boy smiled.
“Bi,” he said, “Bi!”
“That’s right! Brigid!” Kayla told him. “He’s been saying that for two days. We just figured out what it means this afternoon.”
Nora and a woman I didn’t know sat down behind us. The woman squeaked or something when she sat down and half got up again.
“Fold the end of your cloak double and sit on it,” Nora told her. “And pull your hood up.”
“Is it always so cold?” The woman asked. “It’s freezing in here.”
“No,” I corrected her, turning around. “It has to be over forty degrees. I’m pretty impressed, actually.”
“Are you serious?” she said, with flat dread in her voice. Kayla and Nora busted up laughing.
“Oh, Daniel,” said Nora, still giggling. “When you were new, you were freezing, too.”
Have I really changed so much? Of course, the room was freezing, in all but the literal sense. I was pretty comfortable, but I was wearing three layers. The room was dark, though glowing with candle-light. And the woman (she seemed about my age. Nora introduced her to me as Rachel) had no idea what was going on.
From that moment on, I saw the whole evening with a kind of double vision. In one view, I saw everything as familiar, welcome, home. I was getting exited to get back into the swing of things. But in the other view, everything was exotic, confusing, deliciously new. I think I was grinning, because my cheeks cramps up and I had to rub them.
The bell began ringing, and the masters processed in. A year ago, I didn’t know any of their names. I’m not even sure I realized they were faculty and staff. I’ve seen all of them, at one time or another, over the break, but I hadn’t seen them like that—all in uniform, carrying their unlit candles in procession. Allen led them in, just as he’d led them out on Samhain. Kayla lit Karen’s candle. Rachel, the new woman, lit Kit’s. Bearing the light that we gave them, the masters took the stage and lit it up for us.
After introductory remarks and the intentional confusion of introductions, the graduating students came out. Did I describe that last time? Each one came out from the wings, knelt at Allen’s command, stood up on their own initiative, and took off their cloak, before receiving a diploma and going to the lectern to speak. Last year they were all strangers. Now, some of them are friends. Arthur came out first. What goes under the cloak is supposed to symbolize what the person intends to do next, their next chapter, but Arthur was wearing a school uniform, the brown uniform of a mastery candidate. When he got to the lectern he just said “wow,” in an overwhelmed way, and shook his head, before he could really speak.
“You do things right,” he said, impressed, his voice too quiet for anyone much behind me to hear. Then, he raised both arms and shouted “I love you all! Blessed Be!”
Graduate after graduate passed by, getting their diplomas, wearing different things underneath…no one was naked this year, but there was everything else. The room gradually got warmer, from the candles. Three masters’ candidates received their rings, one from Karen, two from Kit. Somewhere, someone was sorting out which new student would go in which dorm. They didn’t know it, but they belonged to us now. The masters processed away again, leaving their light on stage. A new year had begun.
That night, our beginning-of-the-year-party became a birthday party for Aidan. He had chocolate cake for the first time and loved it.
[Next Post: Friday, February 7th: Every class is a test]
[Next Post: Friday, February 7th: Every class is a test]